Tag Archives: film music

Danny Elfman talks Alice in Wonderland (2010)

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Danny Elfman talks Alice in Wonderland (2010)

If I’m perfectly honest, Alice in Wonderland (2010) should be included in my “Didn’t Think I’d Like it (But I did!)” series because, well, I really didn’t think I would like it when the previews arrived. But during my spring break that year I went to see the film because a friend of mine wanted to see it and I actually enjoyed it.

This film is actually something of a sequel to the first Alice in Wonderland (1951) because Alice is now grown up and has all but forgotten her childhood adventure in Wonderland (renamed here as “Underland”). Finding herself on the cusp of being forcefully pushed into a marriage she doesn’t want, Alice unexpectedly returns to Wonderland/Underland, where, as it turns out, she must slay the Jabberwocky, defeat the Red Queen and return the White Queen to power. Mayhem and insanity ensues.

One of the highlights of this film is the musical score by Danny Elfman. The composer is well known for his collaborations with Tim Burton, and this effort is one of their more memorable efforts in recent years.

In the brief interview I found, Elfman briefly talks about his work on the film’s score (I always love watching interviews like this one, I just wish they could be longer!). I hope you enjoy this interview clip.

If you’d like to learn more about the film scores of Danny Elfman, see here

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“Jyn Erso and Hope” from Rogue One, my thoughts…

I can’t believe it’s been nearly two months since I saw Rogue One. Since then, I have been turning over portions of the score in my mind, particularly “Jyn Erso and Hope”, the main theme for our badass heroine.

From the moment I first heard it, something wiggled in the back of my mind and said “I’ve heard something like this before.” But for the longest time I couldn’t think of what that something was.

Then I went back and listened again, and finally it dawned on me: I know EXACTLY where I’ve heard this melody before (granted it wasn’t the exact same, but the core is still intact).

“Jyn Erso and Hope” is, to put it simply, a variation on “Across the Stars”, the love theme for Padme and Anakin from Episode II/III. Here, let the music speak for itself:

Here is “Jyn Erso and Hope”

and here is “Across the Stars”

To my ears, it sounds like Giacchino took components from “Across the Stars” and rearranged a few notes. But if enough of a similarity remains, the mind will remember and try to supply the missing parts (that’s how I knew I’d heard the theme somewhere else).

I don’t think there’s any hidden symbolism behind this, as it makes no sense for there to be any connection between Anakin/Padme and Jyn (though part of me does wonder if Jyn’s mother was a Jedi, she DID have a kyber crystal after all).

I’m not particularly surprised that Giacchino borrowed from another piece of Star Wars music; this is a practice that dates back to the dawn of film music (they don’t really talk about it, but everyone knows about it), but a part of me wishes that he had done a better job of disguising the theme if he wanted to do something like that.

I’m interested to hear what all of you think about this: do you hear the similarity? Or do you hear a connection to another piece? I love discussing film music like this 🙂

Pocahontas “Savages, Part II” (1995)

At the conclusion of “Savages, Part I”, the English settlers and the warriors led by Powhatan were preparing for battle (with the latter planning to execute John Smith first thing in the morning). Meanwhile, Pocahontas has fled to Grandmother Willow, upset and depressed that everything is falling apart and the man she’s so recently fallen in love with is going to be executed and there’s nothing she can do to stop it.

Pocahontas “Savages, Part II” (1995)

Grandmother Willow tries to give some advice, reminding Pocahontas of her dream, but she isn’t in the mood to hear it. Meeko, however, is inspired to dig inside his hole in the tree for something. This “something” turns out to be John Smith’s compass, which contains a large arrow shaped needle inside (Meeko had swiped it during an earlier meeting and Smith had let the raccoon keep it). Pocahontas watches the compass and realizes that as she turns it in her hands, the arrow/needle spins, just like the arrow in her dream!!

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From the moment Pocahontas picked the compass up, the music has begun to pick up in intensity (clearly signalling that something big is about to happen). When she makes the connection between the compass needle and her dream, it picks up a little more. At the peak, there is a short, instrumental refrain of “Listen With Your Heart” as several things happen at once: the sun rises (it’s time for the execution) and the compass needle comes to a stop pointing directly east. The meaning is clear: Pocahontas needs to stop the execution.

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With this decision made, the song resumes with an abrupt cut to Ratcliffe literally walking out of the sunrise, cutting a villainous figure in his black armor. At the same time, Powhatan and his warriors begin the march to the execution site (with Smith in tow) while, in a THIRD musical thread, Pocahontas begins her run to stop an all-out war!

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And, according to the song, Pocahontas truthfully doesn’t know if she can stop this war from happening, but with the power of the spirits (which she invokes along the way), she’s certainly going to try. This semi-hopeful verse is sharply contrasted with the two warring sides who are basically singing the same words (so I’m copying the verse in full):

(Them:)This will be the day/This will be the morning/We will see them dying in the dust

(Pocahontas): I don’t know what I can do/still I know I have to try

(Them):Now we make them pay!

(Pocahontas): Eagle help my feet fly!/(Them): Now without a warning

(Pocahontas): Mountain help my heart be great/(Them): Now we leave ’em blood and bone and dust

(Pocahontas):Spirits of the Earth and Sky/(Them): It’s them, or us

(Pocahontas): Please don’t let it be too late!!/Them: They’re just a bunch of filthy, stinking…

(Them): Savages, savages/demons, devils (kill them!)/savages, savages, what are we waiting for? Destroy their evil race, until there’s no a trace left!

(Pocahontas): How loud are the drums of war!!/Them: Now we see what comes, of trying to be chums/ Pocahontas: Is this the death of all I love, carried in the drumming of…

(All): WAR!!!

Towards the end, all three groups converge at a cliff where the tribe has assembled to execute Smith as revenge for Kocuom’s death. While the approaching settlers watch in horror, Powhatan prepares to crush Smith’s skull with a war hammer (a club with a large stone set in it). At the last moment, Pocahontas darts forward and throws herself over Smith before the hammer can fall.

Saved!!! For now anyway. Pocahontas has an ultimatum: if Powhatan wants to kill John Smith, he has to kill her too, and also she loves him (to the surprise of her father). All of this, Pocahontas says, is the result of walking a path of anger. She, meanwhile, will choose love.

Moved by what his daughter has said, and seeing the slaughter that will come if they continue, Powhatan swears that if there will be any more killing “it will not start with me” and he orders Smith to be released. Everyone begins to lower their weapons, and war seems to have been averted…which is great…right?

Ratcliffe doesn’t think so. This was his big chance to take the Indians out and now the battle isn’t happening at all!. He tries to take advantage by shouting for his men to fire, but the settlers aren’t having it. The whole point of attacking was to rescue Smith, but the tribe has let him go so clearly they don’t want to fight (and therefore neither should they). Seeing his control slip away, Ratcliffe decides to force the issue, grabbing a musket and taking aim at Powhatan. Smith sees this and shoves the chief out of the way just as Ratcliffe fires, taking the bullet instead. Instead of sparking a new conflict, this backfires horribly and Ratcliffe finds him at the receiving end of the settlers’ wrath (a great comeuppance for Ratcliffe by the way, since he ends up being hog-tied by the end).

So on the one hand, the day is saved, but on the other, John is badly injured. This is one Disney film that won’t have the typical ending. How do I mean? Well, you’ll have to check out the finale to find out 🙂

It nearly goes without saying that “Savages, Parts I and II” are one of my favorite Disney songs and I hope you enjoyed reading about it and listening to it. Have a great day! -Becky

For more Pocahontas, see also:

Pocahontas “The Virginia Company” (1995)

Pocahontas “Steady as the Beating Drum” (1995)

Pocahontas “Listen With Your Heart” (1995)

Pocahontas “Mine, Mine, Mine!” (1995)

Pocahontas “Savages, Part I” (1995)

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Pocahontas “Savages, Part I” (1995)

I wanted to save this song for last, but I couldn’t hold out any longer!!!

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With practically every Disney film ever made, there comes a point where events spiral out of control and everything is on the verge of disaster!! “Savages, Part I” begins at such a moment: Kocuom is dead at the hands of Thomas, but only Pocahontas and John Smith know that. The warriors who capture Smith assume that, as the only white man present, that HE fired the shot, and even if Pocahontas told them the truth, they wouldn’t believe her. Chief Powhatan is beyond disappointed in his daughter and he also blames her for Kocuom’s death (“because of YOUR foolishness, Kocuom is dead!”)

Pocahontas “Savages Part I” (1995)

But the turmoil in the village is nothing compared to what’s brewing in the English camp. Thomas has gone racing back to report Smith’s capture, rousing everyone in the process. Ratcliffe is secretly delighted by this turn of events; he’s been itching for any excuse for an all out attack on the “savages” and this provides the perfect opportunity.

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“Savages” begins with Ratcliffe stirring the settlers into a frenzy, reminding them that these “savages” are no good, they deserve to die because they’re different, etc.For example:

What can you expect/from filthy little heathens/here’s what you get when races are diverse!

Their skin’s a hellish red/they’re only good when dead/they’re vermin as I’ve said and worse!!

Actually, the soundtrack version of the song is much nastier, the opening line goes: …from filthy little heathens/their whole disgusting race is like a curse! (I think they realized when they developed this song, that they were going a step too far and they adjusted the line for the actual film.)

Theses opening verses are so openly racist that in the years since its release, this song in particular has gotten a lot of flak, with critics saying the song’s sentiments are completely inappropriate.While is is true that “Savages” expresses racist sentiments, that’s also the point of the entire song!! This song is fully exposing Ratcliffe as the evil, racist villain he’s always been, and the settlers are fully caught up in the wake of his ranting (except for Thomas, who has his own doubts).

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With the English settlers ramped up to go to war, the song switches to Powhatan’s village, where the villagers are making preparations of their own. While the English consider the Indians to be “savages”, the natives consider the white men to be “demons” who must be wiped out before anyone else can die.

This is what we feared/the pale-face is a demon/the only thing they feel at all is greed.

Beneath that milky hide/there’s emptiness inside/I wonder if they even bleed??

John Smith can only watch as the war preparations continue, with the Indians planning to execute him before the battle. The camera cuts back and forth to show how alike the two sides really are: both are arming for war, both are really angry and both are beating “the drums of war” (no matter how different they look, a drum is a drum.)

The truth is, both sides are blinded by hatred. Neither can see that they are equally human because one looks different from the other. It’s interesting how, in the song, each side is color-coded and made to look increasingly not-human (the English are colored orange/crimson and the Indians are colored indigo with war paint added on top of it).

Things are definitely out of control, and if the two sides meet, it’s going to be bad (mostly for the Indians, because the English settlers have a lot of muskets and cannons and arrows and spears will have practically zero effect on that kind of firepower.) What’s going to happen? Will John Smith die at sunrise? We’ll find out in “Savages, Part II” !!!! Until tomorrow! -Becky

For more Pocahontas, see also:

Pocahontas “The Virginia Company” (1995)

Pocahontas “Steady as the Beating Drum” (1995)

Pocahontas “Listen With Your Heart” (1995)

Pocahontas “Mine, Mine, Mine!” (1995)

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James Newton Howard talks Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

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James Newton Howard talks Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

I can’t say it often enough: Atlantis: The Lost Empire is one of the most underrated films that Disney has ever made. Seriously, the animation is beautiful, the story is great, and the MUSIC is one of the best parts! (See Atlantis: The Lost Empire “The Crystal Chamber” for more of my thoughts on this score)

This film was my first exposure to James Newton Howard (The Hunger Games series, Maleficent), and I will defend this score forever. That being said, I was beyond happy when I stumbled across this interview on YouTube where Howard talks about his work on this film. And as Howard puts it, there are really two films going on in this story: there’s the action/adventure of finding Atlantis, and once our hero Milo arrives, a totally new story begins (with a new score to match). To help distinguish Atlantis musically, Howard used a variety of Balinese instruments (which favor bells and gongs) to create a very unique sound.

I hope you enjoy listening to this interview with James Newton Howard! If you also enjoy this film, let me know what you like about it 🙂

If you’d like to learn more about the film scores of James Newton Howard, see here

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Let’s Go to the Oscars #8: Tan Dun wins Best Original Score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

What film score could possibly outshine John Williams’ work with The Patriot or Hans Zimmer’s score for Gladiator? Why, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon of course!

Set in the Qing Dynasty (the equivalent of 1779 by the Western calendar), the story follows the lives of several characters as they intertwine around a fantastic sword called Green Destiny. This is a wuxia film, a genre that tells stories of martial artists in ancient China.

Tan Dun wins Best Original Score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

As Tan Dun says in his acceptance speech, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon helped to bridge the gap between East and West, as it is still considered one of the most popular (and successful) foreign films to ever be released in the United States.

The score for this film is very beautiful and features many solo passages performed by

Yo-Yo Ma, a Chinese-American cellist and former child prodigy (he’s been playing the cello since he was four). I should also mention the entire score for the two hour film was produced in two weeks flat (most scores take four to six weeks, give or take).

I admit it  has been a long time since I saw this film, but I remember it left a deep impression on me and I’m sure it is one of the first foreign films I ever saw. If you haven’t seen it, please give it a try (the music alone is worth the price of a DVD).

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For more Oscar winning composers, see also:

Let’s go to the Oscars #1: Jerry Goldsmith wins Original Score with “The Omen”

Let’s go to the Oscars #2: James Horner wins Best Original Dramatic Score and Best Original Song with “Titanic”

Let’s go to the Oscars #3: John Williams and his five Academy Awards

Let’s go to the Oscars #4: Howard Shore wins for “The Lord of the Rings”

Let’s Go to the Oscars #5: Alexandre Desplat wins Best Original Score for The Grand Budapest Hotel

Let’s Go to the Oscars #6: Michael Giacchino wins Best Original Score for Up (2009)

Let’s Go to the Oscars #7: Ennio Morricone wins Best Original Score for The Hateful Eight (2016)

John Debney talks The Jungle Book (2016)

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John Debney talks The Jungle Book (2016)

It’s no secret that I have mixed feelings about the live-action Disney remakes. It just so happens that The Jungle Book (2016) is one I dislike, only because I have very strong feelings for the animated original. My own feelings for the work aside, I have heard that the score was well done, not surprising since it was composed by John Debney (his musical magnum opus remains the score for The Passion of the Christ (2004)).

In this short interview, Debney talks about how he came to work on the score for the film, what kind of vision the director had and how Mowgli needed a theme of his own. But that’s not all I discovered. I also found a B-roll of footage from the scoring sessions, and I’m pleased to share it with you here. Please note around 1:58-2:00 the giant score that the composer is flipping through. You can also see a beat counter next to his head at the beginning of the video.

The Jungle Book scoring session B-Roll (2016)

I love watching scoring sessions, it’s something I really hope to witness firsthand someday in the future. I hope you enjoy this interview and the footage from the soundstage. I have a lot more interviews queued up and I can’t wait to finally get them published!

If you’d like to learn more about the film scores of John Debney, see here

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